Transforming the Role of Speech Pathologists

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Professor of Communicative Disorders Michael Groher was recently awarded Honors of the Association, the highest distinction from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)—the national professional, scientific and credentialing association in the field.

Through leading international research, teaching and publications, Groher has influenced a transformation of the role speech pathologists play in patient care and how the medical community evaluates, diagnoses and treats patients with swallowing impairments (dysphagia). By helping to establish a multidisciplinary intervention that includes speech pathology as a standard approach, Groher’s work has significantly expanded the scope of treatment options for dysphagia patients.

“Before 1983, if you had a swallowing problem in the hospital, you got a feeding tube,” says Groher. “Now we know how to evaluate patients better and that sometimes the feeding tube might not be needed. If you have a swallowing problem, we now know it is a symptom of an underlying disorder. Now, when a new resident gets a patient who is coughing or choking, they know to call a speech pathologist.”

Groher says the multidisciplinary approach has also opened up the conversation about end-of-life care. “There are options now. A patient who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or a similar condition knows they will eventually experience swallowing impairments. We can have the conversation early on, so the patient can make the decision his- or herself about whether they will want a feeding tube or if they want the impairment to be managed with the techniques available.

“It is so gratifying to have a career where I made a contribution and changed the way things are done,” Groher says. “And it is gratifying to have my peers recognize and value this work. It is really an honor.”

Groher also oversees the University’s Truesdail Center for Communicative Disorders, the nonprofit agency where, under the supervision of clinically certified faculty, graduate students in the department provide speech-language and hearing services to those with communication disorders.

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